The cover of Matt Forbeck’s Vegas Knights describes the novel as “Harry Potter meets Ocean’s Eleven,” but it may be slightly more accurate (if not quite as effective, marketing-wise) to replace Harry Potter with Lev Grossman’s The Magicians. Vegas Knights’ main characters, Bill and Jackson, are two college students on Spring Break in Las Vegas. Sounds fairly normal — except the topic of their studies is magic, and they’re not just in Vegas to party. Instead, they’re planning to use their magic skills to become rich by cheating at the gambling tables. However, they quickly find out that this is easier said than done, because Vegas is very different from what they expected…
Vegas Knights is a fun, entertaining urban fantasy novel that starts off with a bang and rarely slows down. Matt Forbeck gives the reader a great feel for what it’s like to gamble and party in Vegas, and combines this with an exciting and action-packed plot. As someone who’s spent a good amount of time in the “City of Lost Wages,” I felt that Matt Forbeck recreated the atmosphere of the place very effectively, even while adding a few fictional casinos (and of course, well, magic) on the Strip.
A large part of the first half of Vegas Knights is one long and excellent action scene that’s genuinely exciting and impossible to put down. Starting from Bill and Jackson’s second gambling adventure and running through their first meeting with the primary antagonist (whose identity is one of the best surprises of the novel), the story rarely slows down and is jam-packed with action and excitement. The pacing is so hectic that it occasionally feels as if this could have been turned into a much longer novel, but on the plus side, this also means there’s not a dull moment to be found. (And how rare is it nowadays to find a fantasy novel that could have used more padding?)
Unfortunately things take a turn for the worse in the second half of Vegas Knights. The novel starts out as a fun, somewhat shallow but very entertaining magic-in-Vegas caper, but it turns just a bit too silly and frankly verging on the ridiculous towards the end. Saying exactly where and how this happens would spoil the story, but there’s one specific moment where I just couldn’t take the novel seriously anymore. Early on, it’s easy to ignore the flat characters and occasionally clunky dialogue because the plot moves so quickly and offers lots of action and several surprising twists along the way, but after the turning point the book unfortunately strays into pure cartoon territory.
Still, if you don’t take it too seriously, you’ll have a blast with this novel. Vegas Knights is far from perfect, especially towards the end, but it’s hard to imagine a more appropriate book to bring along and read by the pool if you’re planning a Vegas trip.